Co-operative Kakira – Art Imigongo
October 19, 2010

My services weren’t required in school today so having paid a cursory visit to the District Office to use their printer I decided to walk into town and pick up some MTN air time.

Tuesday is a market day and Nyakarambi becomes a cacophony of sound and a riot of colour with people thronging to and fro along the main road. The ladies in their brightly patterned skirts and head dresses, many with babies strapped to their backs, stride along balancing all manner of wares upon their heads while some ride side-saddle perched on the on the back of bicycle taxis.    

The men and boys push their bicycles up the hill laden with such diverse goods as hands of bananas, cane furniture, lengths of corrugated metal and sugar cane.  

It is the men who generally deal with the livestock, leading bleating goats tethered to lengths of rope or clutching struggling chickens by their feet. They also specialise in trading bicycle parts which take up a large area on the periphery of the market.

The sun was shining but there was a pleasant  accompanying breeze rustling through the banana plantations  on the edge of town so I took a spur of the moment decision  to extend my walk to the Co-operative Kakira – Art Imigongo centre about 2km along the road towards Rusumo.

I had read about it before I came and have passed it regularly on the moto ride to and from school but this was first real opportunity to pay a visit.

The south-eastern part of Rwanda is renowned for its Imigongo (cow-dung) ‘paintings’ with their striking geometric patterns. Their origins stretch back to the early 19th century when Kakira, the son of the King of Gisaka in Kibungo Province, invented the art as a means of brightening up the interior walls of houses to make them more attractive.

It was an art form born of mixing together the earth, fire, cow dung and certain medicinal plants.

Cow dung was used to form patterns with prominent ridges which were painted in red (from the natural clay with ochre) white (from kaolin) and black made from the sap of the aloe plant and mixed with the ash of burned banana skins and the fruits of the solanum aculeastrum plant.

Over the years the old skills were gradually disappearing with the introduction of industrial paints etc. so a women’s association was formed to maintain Kakira’s original art form. Following the genocide the women, most of them now widows, re-launched their work making around twenty pieces a month.

In recent years the association has benefitted from improved marketing and many more pieces are being created, a large number of them to order.

When I visited half a dozen ladies were sat cross-legged on on the floor of a shaded veranda, moulding  dung in their fingers and applying it, in the early stages of creating a number of new ‘pictures’. It is a multi layered process and once an order is placed it takes at least two weeks to complete.

I was tempted to buy two pop art style geometric designs which I hope Chris will be pleased to display chez Aldridge!  A little bit of earthy Rwanda in leafy Worcestershire.